Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pierre Hermé's Éclairs

After months of ogling all of the challenges I finally took the plunge - I joined the Daring Bakers!

This is my first challenge, hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK. They selected Pierre Hermé's Éclairs to tempt our palates and our patience with Hermé's famous Pâte à Choux. In all honesty I was quite intimidated when I found out this months challenge was a recipe by Pierre Hermé. But, when I discovered it was éclairs my anxiety lessened. I've had a good deal of experience with éclairs so I wasn't nervous at all.

I should have been. Oh. My. God. This recipe for pâte à choux was enough to make a saint curse the heavens. My traditional recipe for pâte à choux uses only 4 eggs, but Hermé's uses 5. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is. The dough never reached the firmer consistency I was used to, but I thought, 'You know what? He's a famous French pastry chef. He knows what the hell he's doing.'

And you know, I'm sure he does. But I sure don't know what the hell he's doing.

I didn't wait long enough for the pan to cool before adding the eggs so they began to scramble the second they touched the hot saucepan. So I started to beat furiously while barking orders to Husband to crack the eggs into the pan. The 5th egg made it so wet I couldn't beat it as long as it needed to dry out the dough (I have tendinitis in both elbows - not meant for long periods of beating eggs into dough.)so I had to bust out my hand mixer halfway through. Even after beating as long as I could the pâte à choux was still so runny I couldn't get it to stay in the pastry bag. It flopped around all over the counter while I was trying to fill the bag, getting dough on the counters, the floor, the grout in between the tile on the floor. It oozed onto my Silpat in formless, globby heaps. I was having some serious doubts at this point. How on earth were these wet blobs going to transform into light, crisp éclairs? But, on I trod. After all, Hermé knows what he's doing.

I had preheated the oven to the set temperature. I baked them, propped open the door and baked some more, then closed the oven door and baked some more, just like the recipe stated. The end result?

My éclairs were flat as pancakes and tasted like an eggy mess. I was furious. How could I have possibly screwed up one of the easiest pastries I've ever made? I've been making pâte à choux since I was 16 and my friend Danny's mom taught me how. I made them for soccer games and brought them to school for lunch. Now, years later, I can't make a damn pâte à choux? Agh!

Round two. I cheated. This month's rules were to make éclairs using Hermé's pâte à choux recipe and to keep one element of the éclair chocolate. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't use his recipe. It was making me insane. I cursed more than Ludacris' last album and threw my pastry bag across the kitchen. For a moment I thought Husband was going to restrain me.

So, I cheated.

I pulled out my old recipe. The only huge difference was the additional egg, so I just left it out. The pâte à choux was a perfect consistency, it piped beautifully onto the baking sheet. I avoided all that propping the door open nonsense and just baked them for 25 minutes. They puffed up like good little éclairs should and life was wonderful and beautiful and right.

But I forgot to line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. They stuck to that baking sheet like I'd glued them there with extra strength epoxy - effectively ripping out the bottoms and making them impossible to fill.

I was once again, livid. I was having seriously negative thoughts about joining the Daring Bakers. If I couldn't pull off a simple pâte à choux, how in the hell could I create something as elaborate as an Opera Cake or a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream? Was I really cut out to be a Daring Baker? Could I put myself through this every month? Those of you close to me and aware of my personal life know that I'm struggling with some pretty serious issues at the moment. I'm at such a heightened state of emotion that I cry at political commercials and puppies playing in the park down the street. Maybe adding one more element of stress into my life may not have been the best idea ever.

I decided to put the recipe on the back burner for a moment. I needed to sit back and decide if this was really something I wanted to participate in every month. It was still only the 6th of August, so I effectively had until the 30th to make up my mind.

About a week later I decided to try again. I figured that if I couldn't pull off a simple recipe in three attempts that maybe the baker's life just wasn't for me, but it deserved at least three tries.

It worked! Perfectly. Like a charm. It was as simple and easy as a pâte à choux is supposed to be. The eggs didn't scramble, it all incorporated perfectly and they puffed up like little champs in the oven. Easy as pie. Easy as they were when I was 16 and could whip up a batch of cream puffs or éclairs in an hour. My spirits were lifted and my hopes buoyed. The great sense of accomplishment after struggling with this challenge so much made me realize that, yes. Yes I do 'knead' to be a Daring Baker. I may be struggling with many things in my personal life, things that plague my mind and play games with my emotions, but I need this. Something to challenge me, not only in the kitchen, but in my life as well. I need a challenge, an obstacle to stand in my way, so that when I finally crest that mountain I can say I did it. It was trying and I thought about giving up, but you know what? I did it.

And that's precisely what I need right now.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Low-Fat Vanilla Bean Filling

1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
3 cups fat free milk
1 vanilla bean

Off the stove combine the cornstarch and sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the egg yolks and whisk together until fully incorporated. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time at first, mixing until blended completely before adding more milk. This is very important, do not add the milk too quickly or it will be lumpy. Split and scrape the vanilla bean, adding both seeds and pod to the saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until thickened. Pour pudding through a mesh sieve to remove the pod and other particles into a bowl. Cover with saran wrap directly on the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for 30 minutes. Whisk briskly before using.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

And please, don't forget to check out the amazing éclairs from all the Daring Bakers!


Aran said...

welcome to the DB! you are really going to be a pate a choux master after all the trials! great job!

Kristin said...

You know, there is no way in HELL I would even attempt that, so you're a better person than I.

Tartelette said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers! They turned out great! Sorry you had to go through such trilas and tribulations.

Anonymous said...

Oh the trials and tribulations of the Daring Bakers challenges! Welcome to DBers - your pastry cream looks just beautiful with those flecks!

Kevin said...

It looks like your perseverance paid off in the end. Your eclairs look good! I made the puff pastry 2 times as they deflated the first time. They deflated the second time as well but they still tasted good.

Jude said...

Am I terrible for cracking up over your failed attempts? I can't help it... Thanks for the entertaining post :)

silverrock said...

Oooo, low-fat vanilla bean filling. Hmmm, if only it were possible to just eat the filling... but anyways, you're eclairs look divine. And the first picture reminds me of that prickly-pear fruit... so cute! Congrats on your first DB challenge

Sweet Bird said...

aran - I know, and heck, I thought I already had it down pat!

Kristin - Well, I'd never be willing to go into your scary cellar, so that makes you a better person than I.

Tartelette - Thank you! One day I hope to take pictures as amazing as yours, not to mention your baking. Wow!

shellyfish - Thank you! Aren't vanilla beans just so sexy!

kevin - Thank you for the kind words! Yours look so good, you'd never know they deflated.

jude - Yes, you sadist! Nah, it's cool. We all have to laugh at ourselves sometime, right? The eclairs were that time for me.

silverrock - My "filling" recipe is actually pudding, so seriously, make it and eat it alone. I really like it with sliced nectarines - mine and Husband's favorite!

ARLENE said...

Pierre's ears must have been burning. I let loose with quite a few invectives, too. I'm interested in trying your healthier version of vanilla pastry cream. I promised my SO some eclairs to take to work and will do them again this month using my old recipe and a closed oven door. Seems we had parallel experiences for our first DBC.